A second wave of influenza has hit the province and according to officals the new strain is hitting seniors and smokers the hardest.
“We’re seeing an influenza season where the young were picked off first and now the elderly,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Officer for Island Health. “It’s truly a double whammy.”
While the B.C. Centre for Disease Control states it’s too early to know if this wave has reached it’s peak, a 50 per cent increase in number of flu cases over the past three weeks has been recorded. Typically the flu season is associated with the winter and declared over in April, but thanks to the second wave that won’t be the case.
“We certainly anticipate that we will be extending the [flu season] probably to the middle of the month,” says Stanwick. “There’s no way we can call the flu season over when just today I’ve gotten another call from a long-term care facility where they’ve got four more cases of influenza.”
Another five cases of influenza outbreaks have been also recorded at long-term care facilities throughout the province, leading to a recommendation from the WHO on March 21 to add the A component to next year’s vaccine strain — a change from the current vaccine.
Stanwick explains that typically officials take note from the southern hemisphere in regards to their flu season, which gives an idea of what the season will look like in the northern hemisphere, but due to the second wave of influenza that won’t be the case this year.
“The experts have decided that they’re going to be going with something totally different than the southern hemisphere,” says Dr. Stanwick.
The sudden change is expected to cause some major challenges in regards to manufacturing the vaccine and making sure there’s enough for the population. Stanwick compares identifying the dominant influenza virus to a crystal ball, especially for a year or two down the road.
“They use as much science as possible, but at the end of the day it is still an inexact science and sometimes they get it wrong,” he says.
According to Stanwick, influenza kills 5,000 Canadians every year. He says there have been a ‘handful’ of deaths this particular season from the flu.
“People underestimate, particularly the elderly, [the severity of this]. You’ve got other health problems — like heart problems or breathing problems — influenza is the virus that tips you over the last straw and does you in,” he says. “There are direct complications which will aggravate underlying conditions.”
He says complications are especially common for those who smoke regularly.
According to Island Health’s active outbreak list, six outbreaks of Influenza A have been recorded on the Island with two in Victoria and one in Sooke. Symptoms for Influenza A include cough, fever and aches and pains.
Island Health recommends washing your hands regularly, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and staying home when you’re sick.
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